How the Cover Evolved

For the record, I thought I’d put together a little history of how the cover for Publish Your Photography Book came about.

The first preliminary sketches for the cover design happened very early in the process, and were done in response to the need for something to go in the Princeton Architectural Press Spring 2011 catalog. Of course, that was being printed in summer of 2010, if I remember correctly. Mary Virginia and I were deep in the process of writing the book, and a few ideas got tossed about. We sent these off to Princeton Architectural Press, who used the 3rd one (below) in the catalog, but we felt like we needed to keep pushing the idea. (That’s how this 3rd design ended up on the website, and on Amazon for awhile.)









As Mary Virginia and I got closer to finishing the manuscript, Masumi Shibata and I began the process of photographing the various books that were to be featured. We’d set up a temporary shooting studio in one of the empty rooms in the Skolkin+Chickey offices. It consisted of 2 lights, a roll of paper and a card table. I had my tripod and Masumi brought his camera.

We needed to come up with some visuals for the chapter breaks. We had a stack of bulking dummies around the office from all of the books that were being worked on.(A bulking dummy is an unprinted, bound version of a book, made from the paper and cover materials you’ve decided on. A printer will provide this as a visual; it’s a chance to see the object before you’ve started printing.)

The bulking dummies were in all different sizes and shapes, but completely blank and wrapped in white paper boards and/or white dustjackets. They’re like the Platonic Ideal of a book. I thought we could photograph them in ways that would be perfect for the chapter delineations.

Blank book stack RGB

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Masumi was the photographer, and I was sort-of the art director for these shoots. At one point I suggested photographing one of the bulking dummies with me holding it. I held it in front of my chest, in my lap, etc. It didn’t quite work. Then I held it off to the side, against the white back-drop. That worked, on some level.




David Chickey was the designer for the book, and between the 3 of us, with our proclivity for total minimal design (see Kenya Hara on design), we came up with a very austere cover treatment. It was perfect! Crisp, clean, and glowing with un-perturbed white space.

PYPB cover v2.indd


 PYPB cover v2



But Princeton Architectural Press, with their publishing wisdom, knew that this was too much like a non-descript Donald Judd sculpture, and wouldn’t help the book to sell copies. So they asked for some color. In the offices, there was a bookshelf that acted as a wall between the small kitchen area and the conference table where design meetings happened. I’d been gathering books there for a couple years, and had been bringing in copies of things for the book. It was virtually full, and I thought, maybe we could shoot me holding the book off to the side in front of this shelf. We tried it, and it looked great.

Back in the Santa Fe offices, we were all still under the spell of our perfectly white and austere book cover that we’d dreamed up earlier. So we sent off some ideas to PAPress, all of which were quite subdued. (In the first example, Masumi outlined the books on the shelves and we treated the background as an illustration. You can see the evolution from there.)


PYPB cover samples 30

PYPB cover samples 4


PYPB cover samples 5

PYPB cover samples 6


I had loosely styled the shelves for this shoot, without too much thought. We didn’t know if PAPress would go for the idea, so I hadn’t invested too much time in how the shelves looked. They loved the last treatment, in full color. We replied that we’d clean it up and send a more refined approach. I wanted it to read as a very casual, found arrangement; in fact almost all of the books that were being featured in our book were present on those shelves, along with a healthy dose of books by people that I admired, friends and colleagues alike. (It was my way to give a shout-out to all sorts of people.)

Here’s the untouched, un-Photoshopped single-frame take. My hand is literally holding that book in front of that shelf. We didn’t do it with layers (though we thought about it) or multiple stitched frames. Below that is the cropped version that would become the final cover. And below that is the back cover, which maintains the spirit of our austere first-stab attempts at a cover. The Platonic Ideal still sits there proudly, a tabula rasa that every photographer projects his desire for a book onto. It became the perfect blank slate for some back cover quotes from a few VIPs in the field.

The rest is history, as they say.

—Darius, 2014






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Publish Your Photography Book - cover


PYPB cover final final

And now the 2nd edition is out!

Publish Your Photography Book - 2nd Edition